The Division Technique: Cutting Innovation Down to Size

by Drew Boyd

The Division Technique: Cutting Innovation Down to SizeYou can frequently make groundbreaking innovations simply by dividing a product into “chunks” to create many smaller versions of it. These smaller versions still function like the original product, but their reduced size delivers benefits that users wouldn’t get with the larger, “parent” product. This is one of three approaches of the Division Technique called “Preserving Division.”

Les Paul used Preserving Division to produce his multitrack recording by taking a single piece of media—a tape—and dividing it into multiple smaller tracks that perform the same function as the original large piece of tape.

We see this all the time in the technology industry. For years, computer makers kept increasing the capacity of hard drives (the devices within PCs on which programs and data are stored). Then an engineer had a brilliant idea to use Preserving Division to create mini personal storage devices. Today many people won’t leave their desks without placing their “thumb” drives in their briefcase or pocket. These mini storage units are designed specifically for people who must carry electronic versions of documents with them but don’t want to be burdened with laptops or other computing devices. They simply transfer documents from their PCs to their thumb drives, and walk away from the computer.

Many food manufacturers use the Preserving Division technique to create more convenient versions of popular products. By taking a regular serving or portion of a product and dividing it into multiple smaller portions, manufacturers allow consumers to purchase food products in more convenient and cost-effective ways. Consumers buy only what they need instead of a larger amount. Recently, manufacturers have even used Preserving Division to help people curb their calorie intake by providing popular snacks in smaller, more diet-friendly packages. Kraft Foods’s Philadelphia Cream Cheese brand does this by offering individually wrapped single-serving-size portions of its flagship product for people to put in their brown-bag lunches or take to the office with a breakfast bagel.

The time-sharing arrangements that many hotels and condominiums offer provide more examples of Preserving Division. Under timesharing, a year of “ownership” of a property is divided into fifty-two smaller units of a week each. Each unit is then sold to a different owner, who has the right to live in the property for that week. Each smaller unit preserves the characteristics of the whole. Ownership has been divided over time.

Likewise, when you make payments on a loan, you are sending small amounts of money created by dividing the larger, principal amount of the loan. Like the time-sharing condos, the division is based on time.

When doctors treat cancer tumors with radiation therapy, they have to be sure to kill the cancer tissue without doing too much damage to the surrounding healthy tissue. How? They divide the total dose of radiation into smaller, less lethal doses and aim them at the tumor from many different angles. The smaller beams of high-energy X‑rays, divided in space, converge to hit the cancer cells. But the lighter dose of any one beam does not do enough damage to other tissue that it hits along the way.

To get the most out of the Division technique, you follow five basic steps:

1. List the product’s or service’s internal components.

2. Divide the product or service in one of three ways:

  • Functional (take a component and rearrange its location or when it appears).
  • Physical (cut the product or one of its components along any physical line and rearrange it).
  • Preserving (divide the product or service into smaller pieces, where each piece still possesses all the characteristics of the whole).

3. Visualize the new (or changed) product or service.

4. What are the potential benefits, markets, and values? Who would want this, and why would they find it valuable? If you are trying to solve a specific problem, how can it help address that particular challenge?

5. If you decide you have a new product or service that is indeed valuable, then ask: Is it feasible? Can you actually create this new product or perform this new service? Why or why not? Can you refine or adapt the idea to make it more viable?

Keep in mind that you don’t have to use all three forms of Division, but you boost your chance of scoring a breakthrough idea if you do.

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Drew Boyd is co-author of “Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results.” Follow him at and at @DrewBoyd/drewboyd

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  1. Marshall Barnes


    1. In how many different areas in your own professional career life have you applied what you know about innovation? (just talking about innovation doesn’t count)

    2. Out of those areas, how many significant breakthroughs have you had?


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